Grief can radically change how we approach and feel about the holiday season. During the lead up to the season, there can be a lot of attention given to the family-focused holidays such as Thanksgiving, Chanukah, and Christmas. With so much energy put towards those holidays, New Year’s can sneak up on people, especially families with children. While most holidays are associated with memories and traditions shared with the person who died, New Year’s adds a different twist: a visible, concrete marker of the passing of time. 2016 may be the first year that the person who died will never experience. Maybe 2015 was filled with painful memories: diagnoses, treatment, receiving news of someone’s death, funerals, etc. If it’s been many years since someone died, having the passing of time marked so tangibly can also be difficult. We hear people say, “I can’t believe it’s been three years.” “This is one more year my dad won’t be here for.” For some, the previous year was one of major milestones and celebrations (weddings, graduations, new jobs, birth of children, etc.) without the physical presence of the person who died. It can be heartbreaking to review the year, noting everything that a loved one missed.
New Year’s is a holiday everyone celebrates (or doesn’t) in their own way. Take some time to think through the traditions you and your family have connected to New Year’s Eve and Day. Talk with children about which of these traditions they want to keep or new ones they’d like to start. You can also ask what they think and feel about the change to a new year. Planning ahead and talking openly are two of the best ways to make your way through the holidays while grieving. For more information click here for our Getting Through the Holidays Tip Sheet and here for Episode 027: Grief and the Holidays from our Dear Dougy podcast.
We’ve learned from the participants in our grief support groups that the lead up to significant days can be more challenging than the day itself. They’ve also taught us how planning for these occasions can lessen anxiety about how the day will go. Here are two activities for those who are grieving to consider when looking ahead to New Year’s Eve and Day:
Memory Chain: Grieving people of all ages worry that their memories will fade. This can be particularly true for young children who spent such a short period of time with the person before they died. Creating a family memory chain can be a great way to preserve each person’s recollections while also sharing them with one another. To make a memory chain, cut up construction paper into strips. Invite everyone in your family to write or draw memories they have of the person who died. If children are too young to write, ask them to share with you and then write it down for them. Staple the strips of paper together to make a chain that can be hung up or displayed in someway. This is a great activity to do on New Year’s Day with memories added throughout the year. As a family, pick certain times to read through them - perhaps once a month or at the end of the year.
Self-Care Intentions: With so much pressure to make resolutions, New Year’s can leave those who are grieving overwhelmed. When someone dies, managing the tasks of daily life while navigating big emotions can be exhausting. This sense of being overwhelmed can get compounded when you’re surrounded by messages meant to inspire big change and self-improvement. Rather than get caught up making high stakes resolutions, try crafting intentions focused on self-care. Setting these intentions can be a family activity or something to do on your own. Even the youngest children need self-care, whether it’s cuddling with a favorite stuffed animal, playing at the park, or dedicated one-on-one time with a parent, caregiver, or other special adult in their lives. When setting self-care intentions, aim for a variety of ideas ranging from easy and accessible (five deep breaths before going to sleep) to those that require more planning or resources (a movie every other weekend or vacation to a favorite place). It’s helpful to document your intentions in a visible way. Be creative! Post-it notes on the bathroom mirror, a big piece of paper hung up in the kitchen, or a calendar with only self-care intentions marked on it are just a few ideas. Remind yourself and your family that these self-care intentions can change throughout the year and if you aren’t able to follow-through with one, it’s okay: pick something else that seems more feasible.
We’d love to hear from you about what works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to celebrating New Year’s while grieving. Share your thoughts and any pictures you might take of your family’s memory chains and self-care intentions on our Facebook.